NEW YORK (Reuters) – A blizzard pummeled the northeastern United States yesterday, burying cities in knee-deep snow, leaving thousands camped at airports and snarling traffic with blowing snow and icy roads at the end of the busy Christmas weekend.
New York City and surrounding areas were the hardest hit by the storm, which swept up the Atlantic Coast on Sunday night and continued up to the Monday morning commute, unleashing powerful winds that gusted up to 59 mph (95 kph) and bringing cities to a halt.
At least a dozen traffic fatalities in several states were attributed to the treacherous road conditions.
Financial markets operated normally although trading volumes were thinned by the storm, which also kept shoppers away from the malls on the day after Christmas, one of the busiest shopping days of the year.
Authorities shut down New York’s three major airports and others in the Northeast for nearly 24 hours, cancelling thousands of flights and stranding passengers in terminals that were cut off for hours from trains and taxis, with food and information in short supply.
After a busy day plowing and melting snow with heavy equipment, airport authorities reopened John F Kennedy, Newark Liberty and La Guardia airports to departing flights only, a Port Authority spokeswoman said. La Guardia was likely to start receiving flights last night and the others this morning.
As the storm moved into Canada, the sun broke through on the US East Coast, but massive piles of snow could take days to melt. Temperatures were not expected to climb above freezing for a sustained period until later in the week.
Tens of thousands of homes lost power throughout the Northeast. But true to the refrain that “the show must go on,” Broadway shows promised to perform as scheduled yesterday.
Major airlines including Delta Air Lines, American Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Continental Airlines and United Airlines cancelled large numbers of flights.
“Here there are maybe 200 folding cots for 1,000 people,” traveller Lance Jay Brown, 67, said from John F. Kennedy Airport’s Terminal 8. “I paid $50 for three hot chocolates, a couple of candy bars and two sandwiches, and I was happy to get a sandwich. There are dozens of people twisted out of shape with frustration.”
One caller seeking to reschedule a flight on US Airways was told by an automated phone message: “Your wait time is now 170 minutes.”
Many offices closed for business, including the United Nations, which canceled all events at its New York headquarters.
After 17 hours of snowfall dropped 20 inches (50 cm) on New York’s Central Park, the city was covered. Snow drifts piled 3 to 5 feet (90 to 150 cm) in some areas and giant mounds accumulated on the sidewalks where snow plows cleared the streets.
Similar snowfalls were reported throughout the Atlantic Coast, and totals reached as high as 29 inches (74 cm) in New Jersey.